Blimey, that didn’t take long.
On Sunday, at the tender age of twenty, at the Circuit of the Americas, Austin, Texas, Marc Marquez took the chequered flag to become the youngest winner of the premier motorcycling class since Freddie Spencer in Belgium way back in 1982.
However, this wasn’t a victory built on the thrilling, wheel to wheel, audacious style with which the young rider made his name on his way to world championships in the 125cc and Moto2 classes. This was a chilling dissection of a race win, a victory based on a forensic study of the rider in front of him, fellow Repsol Honda garage member Dani Pedrosa, before making the decisive move with nine laps to go. Although some of that audacity remains. The telling blow was made in the sweeping set of curves that mirror the Maggotts-Becketts-Chapel sequence of Silverstone, a sequence that observers had reliably observed would be one of the least likely passing points on the circuit.
The BBC commentator Steve Parrish had been speculating during the race whether the young man’s stamina would hold up over the demands of a long race on a challenging new circuit. The question was whether Marquez had made his move too early. In truth, once that pass had been made the victory never seemed seriously in doubt. In the aftermath of the race, it was Pedrosa complaining of his arms struggling to meet the rigours of the duel.
This is a result that will have been particularly galling for Pedrosa. Following the retirement from the class of Casey Stoner from the Repsol garage, Pedrosa may have reasonably expected a period of dominance on tracks like Austin that could have been purpose built for the Honda while the young blood beds in. That expectation has been blown apart. This result will have sent a shiver through all of the pack, but none more so than Pedrosa.
That’s enough of the objective analysis of the victory. Here’s the personal bit. Marquez is simply phenomenal. It’s rare that a rider emerges that, from an early point, you simply watch, thunderstruck, and think to yourself ‘He’s going to be a GP champion’. Estoril, 2010, was the moment. The 125 race was red flagged part way through due to rain. On the sighting lap for the reduced sprint, Marquez fell and had to return to the pits. Starting from the back of the grid, in nine laps he carved through the field in majestic style to take the chequered flag and the top of the podium. I can still remember shaking my head in disbelief and thinking this guy is going to be huge. Three years later, he has taken his first MotoGP victory in only his second race.
This was not the most exciting race in the world, certainly not as exciting as the commentators would have had you believe. However, it was probably the most important we’ve witnessed since Lorenzo took his first premier class win at Estoril (that circuit again) in 2008.
The victory leaves Marquez joint top of the standings, alongside Jorge Lorenzo, runaway victor in Qatar, a race enlivened by Valentino Rossi’s charge through the placings to take second. However, I don’t think it’s Vale that will be most exercising Lorenzo’s thoughts right now. Marquez has announced his arrival in emphatic style.
Footnotes: Cal Crutchlow continued his strong start to the season, following a fifth at Qatar, with a fourth in Austin. Not bad for a rider new to the circuit on a satellite Yamaha bike over a rival, Rossi, who had the benefit of both a factory ride and also pre-season testing on the track. Lorenzo has made clear his admiration for Cal. That’s all the endorsement you need.
As much as I despise the BBC’s touchy-feely, human interest-led, interactive approach to sport in which everything seems to be a 1980s Top of the Pops party with the heirs of Peter Powell presenting the shows in such a way that the sport is incidental to the promotion of an audience experience as inclusive as possible aimed squarely at the lowest common denominator whose imagined finger is poised on the remote and with a mind wandering to the Jeremy Kyle Show unless an angle can be found that reveals the journey traversed by the sport personality, their pain, their disappointments and their imminent redemption (“How does it feel?”), I loved The Rock and Roll Years. The clarity, the crispness, the sheer bloody confidence to add nothing at all but a music soundtrack to ropy old pictures, made it one of my favourite programmes ever. Francis Welch had the bleedin’ obvious and bloody genius idea to do that with the BBC’s motor racing archive - and That Petrol Emotion is the result.
Few sports look better in the old days – football looks too slow, athletes, with one or two exceptions, look like ordinary blokes and you can’t even see the ball half the time in the cricket. But motor racing? Oh motor racing was so much more beautiful, so much more thrilling, so much more alive (even with the Grim Reaper’s finger continually tapping on the windshield) in the old days.
There’s doomed Mike Hawthorn in his bow-tie winning a World Championship and unexpectedly so shy in interview; the nonpareil Fangio, fat and bald but with ice in his veins; the impossibly handsome Stirling Moss chatting to a devilish Colin Chapman; and Jimmy Clark, on his farm tractor, the quiet everyman who might just have been the best of them all. Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart do their turns of course, and there’s a sight or two of the likes of Denny Hulme and Jackie Oliver with James Hunt’s glinting eye and fierce will to come. I haven’t seen Jochen Rindt or Ronnie Peterson yet, but I’ll get upset again when I do.
And the cars! From the curves of the science-fiction machines of the 50s to the sleek lines of the rear-engined 60s F1 missiles to the first experiments with the aerodynamicists’ crazy looking bolted-on wings, every last one of them is a vision – pretty much devoid of sponsors’ logos and identifiably a car. The circuits are also clearly roads or purpose built tracks that look like roads - kerbs, lamp posts and walls boast a couple of straw bales as protection for a car hitting them at nearly 200mph. Camera positions at the likes of Monaco and Spa are different, so we see unexpected perspectives on old favourites. Fire is an ever-present hazard, but mechanics still smoke in the pits while they ready jerry cans of fuel for the cars.
There’s no omniscient voice to explain, judge or apologise for any of this – just the men (always men) who did so at the time. Raymond Baxter is outrageously posh and paternal, but he knows his stuff (he was a fighter pilot so he knew all about facing down death day after day and a decent rally driver, so he knows the skills required to keep a car on an icy road with the foot down hard). Other raffish middle-aged products of decent public schools and Oxbridge happily describe cars as being like girlfriends, stereotype Italians in a way that would make Paolo Di Canio blush and give the overarching impression that the British are the natural leaders of the world. It’s not so much offensive at this distance as sweetly quaint.
There’s no smart-arsery in cutaways to Jimmy Carr or Miranda Hart to give an ironic glaze and capture the twenty-something demographic, just a willingness to let these grainy, glorious, foolish pictures speak for themselves. It’s not on the i-player because of bloody rights issues of course, but there are clips on the website here and you can still catch some episodes on BBC Four. And you should. You really should.
The Tooting Trumpet is delighted to welcome Phil Sawyer to the blog. Here is his piece previewing the 2013 MotoGP season – let’s hope there’s more to come.
So here we are. At the start of the 2013 MotoGP season. And rare would be the MotoGP fan who isn’t feeling a spine tingling frisson of excitement at the prospect.
2012 was a curious fish of a year. Seasoned followers were anticipating another season of Casey Stoner dominance. Not necessarily with much excitement. But then came Stoner’s unexpected announcement, mid season, of his decision to retire from the class. After that, and compounded by an ankle injury, the fire seemed to go from his belly. Dani Pedrosa produced a late surge that led to six top of the podium finishes in the last eight races, but Mister Consistency Jorge Lorenzo held his nerve and did what needed to be done in racking up the points to take the title without ever quickening the pulse in the manner of previous showings.
This season, however? Already the pulse is quickened. Lets start with the obvious. Valentino Rossi. The Doctor, the GOAT, back on the Yahama M1 that, in his own words, he looked into the eyes of back in Welkom in 2004 and which whispered to him, ‘I love you’. It takes a strong spirit to let go of that kind of love and go in search of a new challenge, although some would question whether he saw his love flirting with the new kid on the block, Lorenzo, and realised her eyes were no longer for him alone. Does it take a stronger spirit to admit, after two failed years at Ducati, that things weren’t working and to return in the hope of rekindling that romance? The jury is probably divided on that one (Stoner, certainly, has strong opinions, and not complimentary ones, about Vale’s decision to return to Yamaha). For what it’s worth, I think it took a fair swallowing of pride on Vale’s part to admit defeat and return to Yamaha. And what motorcycling fan in the world can fail to think the world is a slightly better place to see Rossi once more at the sharp end of things on the timing screen.
Of course, things have moved on in the Yamaha garage in the meantime. Yamaha Managing Director Lin Jarvis has made it clear that, while both riders will be given equal footing, double world champion Lorenzo will be treated as developmental lead, and that he is now seen as the most likely to add to Yamaha’s titles. Pronouncements from all parties so far have been excruciatingly cordial. Which would lead the seasoned MotoGP follower to conclude that it won’t take much for tensions on both sides of the garage to rise, especially given that early season testing suggests that there’s not much in it timings’ wise. With none of the pitwall radio communications that so blight Formula One regarding team instructions available in MotoGP, it should only take a couple of wheel to wheel incidents to awaken old tensions.
Away from the Yamaha garage, Dani Pedrosa’s performances in the latter half on the 2012 season on the Repsol Honda have led a number of MotoGP commentators to suggest that 2013 could be Pedrosa’s year. So often betrayed by a fragile, brittle body that seems to suffer more than most from the crashes one can only expect when racing two wheels at such high speeds, if Pedrosa can stay on his bike many are predicting that this could finally be the year he transfers so many years of promise into a championship win. Pre-season testing times have only added to this view. However, there’s an elephant in the room, in the shape of the (very young) man who has stepped into Stoner’s seat.
Marc Marquez has produced perhaps the greatest buzz in MotoGP since Rossi’s early days, eclipsing even Lorenzo’s step up into the top class. World Championships at 125 and Moto2 class, but more than that it was the nature of these triumphs. A racer whose sheer audacity of move and breathtaking ability to carve through a field is unparalleled in many a year, his style not only draws comparison with Rossi but also with the occasionally headstrong but always exciting, and still sadly missed, Marco Simoncelli. A product of the Repsol Honda garage, his progression to premier class of the sport feels natural and deserved. Again, timings have suggested he does not feel overawed by mixing it with the big boys, and I’d be very surprised if podiums did not beckon in 2013.
Elsewhere, Andrea Dovizioso’s early showing has suggested that maybe Stoner wasn’t the only one who could ride that damn Ducati, and Alvaro Bautista on the Gresini Honda has shown promising pace. However I’ve saved, from the English bike fan’s point of view, the best until last. Cal Crutchlow has gone from strength to strength. On a satellite bike, he has taken the Tech 3 Yamaha and thrust it right in the middle of the factory riders. Building on a couple of podium finishes last season, he has, perhaps, benefited from the knowledge (and subsequent support) that becoming undisputed team leader has afforded him. Surprising many in his first two years with the pace he dragged out of the Tech 3 (and outperforming last year his former Tech 3 team mate, the factory team favoured, but subsequently dropped, Ben Spies), in pre-season this year his pace has been extraordinary, culminating in topping the timing screens in the final test, above all the factory riders (form that he continued into the first free practice of the Qatar Grand Prix, second and under 71 thousandths of a second behind Lorenzo in first).
As someone who remembers standing at the Mountain at Cadwell Park, watching Crutchlow power his flame spitting Rizla Suzuki around the circuit in British Superbikes not that many years ago, his progression has been quite extraordinary. And so, despite my love for Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and the young kid on the block Marquez, I know who’ll have me cheering on his every move during the forthcoming 2013 season. Staying on his bike while pushing hard, a problem that has blighted his first two seasons in MotoGP, will be the largest obstacle for Cal to hurdle. I just hope I haven’t jinxed him.
The man who was so often The Leader of the Pack (La Course en Tete) was Eddy Merckx, the greatest cyclist in history and, it must be said, an astonishingly beautiful human being. Joel Santoni’s film tells us that and much else, but leaves the enigma of the man as impenetrable as ever.
Starting with the pain of defeat – much the greatest pain shown on Merckx’s notoriously impassive face over the next two hours – in the controversial 1973 World Championship (causing a rift with Freddy Maertens that has never really healed), the film traces the contrasts of joy and pain in Merckx’s life on the road and at home. There’s the joy of family life with Claudine and kids and the pain of crashes on the track and road; there’s the joy of reflection on victories and the pain of the muscles being brought back to life by his loyal soigneur; there’s the pain of doping allegations (ever so briefly raised and dropped) and the joy of the jerseys and trophies accumulated by the man who could bear pain better than any other.
It’s in the details that the film excels. Bikes are perfect triangles of thinnest steel tubing, obviously designed on graph paper with a ruler and pencil. Team jerseys are of lightweight wool, with sponsor’s names etched in such continental calligraphy. Riders are free of helmets and sunglasses, their sacrifices on climbs and in sprints lain bare before our eyes. Crowds crowd the riders, on the roads and at the finishes. Everyone wants a piece of Merckx, many literally swiping his hat and anything else as he is consumed by an adoring public and jealous Italians.
We learn little of Merckx the man. That he hated losing is hardly a revelation nor that he obsessed over his bikes, fetishising the components, fiddling with saddle heights and cassettes, watching mechanics like a hawk, partly to make sure they did their jobs with the same single-mindedness as he did his and partly (one suspects) in envy for their shelter from the public and their long hours in the sole company of bicycles.
Of the rider, there’s ample evidence for his nickname, “The Cannibal”. He pushes big gears up mountains riding tempo until there is nobody left on his wheel and then rides tempo to the finish to win with a momentary smile. His style is reminiscent of Jan Ullrich in his glory days. At other times, he looks ugly on the bike, out of the saddle and over the handlebars, fighting against the gradient – like Cadel Evans trying to suck a wheel. In time trials, he attacks the course, showing it no respect, dismissing it from under his wheels – like Fabian Cancellara at his best. We see Merckx winning sprints, but there’s no evidence of a real jump, more the relentless ability to go faster than anyone else, no matter what the circumstances.
As ever when a camera is pointed at the Giro or the Tour, there are breathtaking landscapes through which the cyclists ride and some fantastic shots of the kind of medieval towns through which the Giro passes every year. The best shots have the more terrible beauty of the mountains, especially descents in rain, even full storms, in which Merckx shows that he may have gone uphill like Ullrich, but he descends like Pantani – Merckx was a bike handler nonpareil.
There’s a lot wrong with the film – the music is ill-judged and intrusive and the cuts from massage to the day’s climb are too cliched – but it is a remarkable chronicle of a remarkable man at a time when cycling, with its grands tours and monuments, was undeniably foreign, untouched by the familiarity that comes with global sponsors, live television and cheap air travel. The footage is but forty years or so old and Merckx himself isn’t yet 70, but one is looking in on a world gone forever. It is to M. Santoni’s credit that he brings so much of that world to the screen.
You can see La Course en Tete by clicking here.
(This review will also be published at Made Good.)
With the discourse of sport on television so settled – linear narrative, repeats of key moments, a focus on stars, endless expert analysis, real-time on-screen information graphics – and the few attempts to step outside such confines usually producing something that might just get a 2.2 at a mid-range film school, Pour un Maillot Jaune stands as not merely the best documentary about cycling, but the best documentary about sport. It is an astonishing piece of work that improves on every viewing – from my first sighting of it on Channel Four in the mid-80s to its DVD giveaway with a Cycle Sport subscription in the 90s, to its posting on youtube in 2009.
Filmed (and the film is so obvious the slippery brown stuff and not even video, never mind digital recording – at times, you can almost hear it clicking through the camera) in black and white and colour, with music, noises and silence as its soundtrack, the 1965 Tour is captured in a series of short sequences, packed with detail. Here’s a puffed-up local maire, cutting the ribbon to start a stage, milking his moment in the limelight while the riders lean on their bikes, bored. There’s a priest blessing the peloton in a scene, like so many others, that is so very, very French. And here’s a Johnny Hallyday wannabe entertaining the locals late at night with the town en fete after the arrival of the Tour.
These colour scenes are so densely populated and come at the viewer at such a pace, that the film grows into a mosaic of images, each complete in and of itself, but also forming a synthetic whole. One feels inside the chaos of the Tour, carried away in its carnivalesque caravan, catching a cough as Gitane smoke curls on the breeze.
As if that wasn’t enough, the film also captures the lot of the men on the road. On motorbikes, photographers balance precariously to get their shots while others drift off to sleep, heads resting on the backs of their drivers. Under a fierce sun, an official leaps from his car to immerse himself in the cool, cool water of a roadside canal, before racing back behind his huge 60s steering wheel as the peloton cruises past. Journalists interview riders and babble into mics for the benefit of radio listeners – noise everywhere.
The riders are almost incidental in this circus, but not quite. They tick over on the flat roads along the seaside near Cannes, suffer on what looks like an ascent of the Galibier, stop to fill bidons at village square fountains and fall from the top of a mountain pass to the valley at terrifying speeds. Unhelmeted, gaunt and with haircuts that Elvis would recognise from his days as a GI, they look more like James Dean style film stars than sportsmen. None are identified, but it’s easy to spot the likes of Tom Simpson, Raymond Poulidor and race winner, Felice Gimondi and those timeless team jerseys – Peugeot, Pelforth, Kas, Mercier, Ford and Molteni.
Ultimately, the real stars of the show are director Claude Lelouch and editor Claude Barrois. Lelouch finds unique angles to reveal the terrible beauty of the Tour. He contrasts the speed of the race with the heavy, heated air of high summer in rural France. He portrays the intimacy of the relationship of rider and soigneur. He shows us the great physical pain of a rider on the limit and the greater mental pain of the rider past the limit and in the broom wagon.
More than any other sport, cycling has the character of performance art, a rolling exhibition in praise of man’s capacity to tame his environment and the environment’s capacity to hit back. Pour un Maillot Jaune shows more of the Tour in 30 minutes than you will see in three weeks this summer – despite television’s superb coverage. It really is that good.
(This review will also be published at Made Good.)
It’s sat on my shelf for over a decade. Unlike the back copies of Procycling and Cycle Sport in the loft and under the bed, it didn’t grow so distant so quickly, as chronicles of the near past so often do. It had no photos of fallen heroes, no photos of those heroes not yet fallen, no photos of those who may be heroes yet (Boardman, Obree and Lemond and…). But I hadn’t read it, hadn’t wanted to break the spell woven by the voices of David Duffield and Phil Liggett (“IT’S ROCHE!”), hadn’t wanted to know what I merely believed. After reading David Walsh’s Seven Deadly Sins last weekend, the time had come to pick up its precursor.
For a while, it’s rather an ordinary, almost apologetic, read. Kimmage wants to emulate his father and win bike races – he soon does, and joins three other Irishmen, giants of 80s cycling Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly and fellow domestique Martin Earley on the continental pro circuit. There’s some laddish banter, some old bastard managers with hearts of gold (and plenty without) and some minor successes. The only unusual aspect of this rise to the middle is the author, a spiky young man, quick to judge (but usually right) with a gift for observation and recording that marked a talent for writing that had much more potential than his talent for bike racing. (Though he was no loser on the bike – he did his job and he did it well)
Then suddenly, the curtain is drawn and we’re ushered into the murky enclaves of professional cycling. It’s a looking glass world in which those not taking a “charge” are the immoral ones, letting down their mates. There’s the vicious weeding out of the “weak” of body and mind by the managers’, by the fan’s, by the sport’s insatiable desire to win. And there’s the brutality of the races: long miles in the cold, up and down mountains, day after day in which the losers are not those placed behind the winner, but those who get off – it’s as close to gladiatorial combat as is legal, and, boy, did we love it for that. People, as they do, learn to cope – the riders ran for the shelter of the pro cyclists’ little helper.
Kimmage didn’t want that. He remained as true as he could to his romantic image of what cycling could be. He weakened as far as the strong stuff three times in the narrative, but not to win – to survive. Even as clean as he was, hs story is an unedifying tale of needles in bums, suppositories up bums and of dodging the Keystone Kops of the doping controls. Don’t put your daughter (or son) in a stage Mrs Worthington.
Eventually he has had enough of the whole thing and swaps sitting behind the handlebars for sitting behind a computer – and, to his genuine surprise, discovers that he’s a better writer than rider. The diary pieces after stages of the Tour and the Giro are vivid portraits of life on the road, made all the more powerful by being headed by that day’s stage winner and maillot jaune – men never referred to in each day’s account. They might as well have been on another planet – often they were.
23 years after its first publication, the book has little to reveal to the cycling fan who has had eyes to see – cycling’s stars have often been treated like Chuck Connors in Branded. Through those 23 long years, Kimmage (like David Walsh) has been ostracised for “spitting in the soup”, speaking truth to power and challenge the alliances of sponsors, cyclists, managers, doctors and administrators who needed the show to go on, despite all that they knew. He lost friendships and found himself sued by his heroes for talking about a hit of amphetamine on the road, the setting up of a few criteriums and the occasional oiling of inter-team alliances with money – all stuff every cycling fan knew about and largely accepted. I know I did.
Now a journalist, he and Walsh began to find out about stuff stronger than that taken at most nightclubs in Europe. Hormone supplements are only hinted at in Rough Ride, but the genie was already out of bottle. EPO was allowing the riders to fly ever closer to the sun and to fall ever further if they got it wrong, as the blood thickened and the heart just couldn’t pump it. Kimmage’s book was a warning to the future and it was largely ignored by those with the power to do anything about it. And we know where that story ended last month.
Today David Walsh has revealed that he will live with Team Sky this season – the troll no longer under the bridge, but at the heart of cycling’s Number One team. His insider’s tale will be quite different from Kimmage’s – but did there have to be so many casualties laid out on the road between them? The UCI may have to answer that question very soon – and I hope Paul Kimmage is among the inquisitors.
(This review will also be published at Made Good.)
From the moment David Walsh watched Lance Armstrong riding the Tour de France 1999 prologue and thought (no, not thought, knew) something wasn’t right, his life became consumed with an Ahabish obsession to slay the biggest fish in cycling’s, perhaps even sport’s, waters. Seven Deadly Sins is his account of how he played his part in Lance’s eventual evisceration and of why he so doggedly pursued the man who had cut him away from his innocent love of professional cycling – a sport the external terrible beauty of which hid an internal terrible horror.
In the early 80s, Walsh was smitten by the sport and its stars – especially fellow Irishmen, the sprinter-turned-Classics-hardman Sean Kelly, the softly spoken Dubliner Stephen Roche and the kid trying to make it, Paul Kimmage. He was soon travelling with the circus, reporting Le Tour and other big races for the Sunday Times and getting his first glimpse of cycling’s unseen world, with the rattle of the pill box in the back pocket, the contempt with which those that rode on “bread and water” were held by the “committed” and cancerous effect of doping on the souls of those that did not dope (and thus lost) and those that did dope (and thus lied). The love faded and the journalist’s instinct for a story took over. David Walsh was no longer in the cycling game, he was in the doping game and he was going to tell that story, come hell or high water. From 1999, it was not about the bike.
The book captures much of the loneliness of the life Walsh chose. Who wanted this journalist to spit in the soup? Not the cyclists, the vast majority of whom knew what was required, and did what was required, without breaking the omerta. Not his fellow journalists, most of whom were as besotted as Walsh had been before the scales fell from his eyes – anyway, their jobs depended on access to riders and such access could be denied. And not the administrators either, whose monuments tottered on piles of used syringes, too plentiful to deal with – take one too many of those riders’ little helpers away and the whole lot might come crashing down.
Walsh’s moral compass never faltered and he began to find allies, find men and women who would talk, each disgusted in their own way about how cycling had been hollowed out by cynics and charlatans. Men and women as spiky and fearless as Walsh, found a confessor and scribe in the Irishman, a man who would listen and believe and, unlike so many others, act. In turn, Walsh got support from his editor over years when readers’ letters stacked up telling him that the punters didn’t want to know.
And there was good reason for so many who suspected (and the few that knew) to keep their heads down. There wasn’t just the carrot of money, glory and glamour for those who went along with the spectacle, but the stick of banishment for those who associated with “the troll” Walsh. Journalists were sued (Walsh and colleague Pierre Ballester’s book LA Confidentiel is not available in the UK for fear of libel), whistleblowers like Christophe Bassons were forced out of the peloton and many veiled and unveiled threats were issued by men with the power to make good on them.
Slowly Walsh found more like Kimmage – those who had been on the inside and knew what went on behind the closed doors of anonymous hotels at races and training camps. Honest men like Italian coach Sandro Donati led him to Professor Francesco Conconi, a man very interested in the impact of blood composition on athletic performance, and on further to Conconi’s protege, Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong’s long-time adviser, and doctor to many successful cyclists – and believer in EPO’s danger being equivalent to that of orange juice. Walsh’s contempt for the medics with their “training programmes”, their lists with the code names, is greater than that he bears towards the cyclists – except Lance.
If contempt runs through the book as the grotesque freakshow’s scale grows and grows, there’s love too. Donati is praised, but that is as nothing compared to Walsh’s platonic love of two women – Betsy Andreu and Emma Reilly. Betsy, wife of ex-Armstrong team-mate and friend Frankie Andreu, was fired by a zealous sense of right and wrong as it affected her and her husband. She would not stand for Frankie doing drugs and she would not lie for Lance – she told Walsh that Lance had admitted to using PEDs in hospital during his cancer treatment. She also lent Walsh some of her indomitable spirit just when he needed it. Emma Reilly was Lance’s soigneur and confidante – she was on the inside and happy to tell anyone who would listen and sod the consequences. (Both women clearly liked Lance – a man who could be monstrous, especially when threatened, but who could be charming, decent and good company in a world where the testosterone didn’t just come in hypodermics).
The feeling that something wasn’t right in 1999 had grown into a case against Lance that resided in that space that eats at the soul of the journalist – strong enough to convince any reasonable editor, but not strong enough to stand up in a court. Walsh’s evidence had been compiled over years, but still Lance could, and did, say that he had never failed a test (at least not one he couldn’t make disappear). And for all the rickety worthlessness of so many of the drug protocols, plenty did fail tests – that, and the fact that Lance only really rode to win on five days of the year, made me believe in the Armstrong cult for too long. Roll in the despicable bullying of those who suggested that cycling’s Emperor had no clothes and it becomes easy to see how this big lie lasted so long and why it took a state-backed agency and Floyd Landis’ ethical crisis and flatly damning confession, to provide the smoking gun and see the seven jerseys lowered at long last.
Seven Deadly Sins shows signs of being a somewhat hurried in its publishing (it really should have an index) and there are occasional stylistic ticks that grate a little – I just can’t abide the one sentence paragraph – but what it loses in polish, it more than compensates in its fiery righteousness. Walsh had the energy of a lover scorned – cycling had done that to him – and he had his small coterie of believers which took on the characteristics of a terrorist cell, plotting and planning to explode truths in a sprawling landscape of deceit. I’ve written of my own feelings about Armstrong here, and, 400+ pages later, little has changed on that score. But I have a newly revived respect for those that dare to stand up for their beliefs, for those that won’t be browbeaten nor warned off, for those who refuse the easy option in full knowledge that the harder option will be very hard indeed. And, not for the first time and not for the last, I am reminded that – even in these media saturated days (perhaps because of these media saturated days) – the best place to hide is in the full glare of the spotlight.
(This review will also be published at Made Good. Thanks to Michael Beattie for the gift of the book).